Naomi and Ruth (1947) was Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s first nonliturgical biblical choral work, a genre to which he later dedicated himself intensely. It was written for women’s chorus and a soprano soloist who takes the role of Naomi. Ruth’s responses, described by the composer as “characteristically universal,” are left to the chorus. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s interest in the story went back to his childhood. Naomi happened to be his mother’s name as well, and as he later wrote:
In some way I identified with this biblical character through my mother (and at the same time I identified myself with her)...Some time later I found another “connection”: The other principal female character, the mild and faithful Ruth, resembled my wife, Clara....In a certain sense, it really was my “symbolic autobiography,” existing before I decided to write—to open my heart [to]—these pages.
In 1948 Castelnuovo-Tedesco was visited by his friend, composer Ernst Toch, a refugee from Vienna then living in Los Angeles. Toch gave him the score to his cello concerto (op. 35). Moved by the affection expressed by Toch’s gift, Castelnuovo-Tedesco returned the gesture by presenting Toch with a manuscript copy of this cantata. Almost immediately he regretted what he had done, writing later:
To Ernst, who was such a complex and mature musician, this cantata must seem much too simple and childlike. But with extreme surprise (and immense gratification) I received a letter from Toch...telling me that “this is one of the purest and most touching compositions you have ever written.”
Naomi and Ruth (subtitled A Small Cantata for Women’s Voices from the Book of Ruth) was premiered in Los Angeles in 1949 by the Los Angeles City College Philharmonic Chorus conducted by Hugo Strelitzer, with the composer at the piano. It was orchestrated subsequently.
Sung in English
Book of Ruth 1:1–17
Source: The Holy Scriptures
And it came to pass, in the days when the Judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion—Ephratites of Bethlehem in Judah. And they came into the country of Moab and continued there.
And Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab, the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth, and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also, both of them, and the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she arose, with her daughters-in-law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread. Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her: and they went on the way to return into the land of Judah.
And Naomi said unto her two daughters-in-law:
“Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.”
And she kissed them, and they lifted up their voice, and wept. And they said unto her: “Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.”
And Naomi said:
“Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb— that they may be your husbands? Turn again my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have a husband also tonight, and should also bear sons. Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? Would ye stay for them from having husbands? Nay, my daughters! For it grieveth me much, for your sakes, that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”
And they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clave unto her. And she said:
“Behold, thy sister-in-law has gone back unto her people and unto her Gods. Return thou after thy sister-in-law.”
And Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest I will go. And where thou lodgest I will lodge: Thy people shall be my people, and thy God. Where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."
Publisher: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco estate
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